English Origin?

Posted on January 30, 2017 | genkijacs

When learning a new language, there is happily always some vocabulary incorporated that we already know from other languages. Japanese offers a lot of terms that derived from the English language. However, as a non-native English speaker, you should beware unless you want British or American people making funny expressions when you talk to them. Some Japanese expressions that appear to be English may in fact just be modern Japanese. Here are some examples:

→ キーホルダー (ki-ho-ruda; key holder): key ring, key chain
→ ベビーカー (bebi-ka; baby car): stroller
→ ポテトフライ (poteto furai; potato fry): french fries (US), chips (UK)
→ ジェットコースター (jetto ko-suta-; jet coaster): roller coaster
→ カージャック (ka-jakku: car-jacking): hijacking a car

The Legendary Turtle Shell – How Kanji Came to Life

Posted on January 23, 2017 | genkijacs

Whoever studies the Japanese language will eventually come across the complex writing system based on the Chinese characters called Kanji. Memorizing them is probably the hardest part when studying Japanese. However, it can also be quite interesting learning about their origin and their development.

There are several theories about how they first came to life. One of them is particularly interesting:

It all began around 4,000 years ago somewhere in China. Back then, people had a lot of questions; Questions that only the heavens could answer. For only the heavens had the power of divination and could foresee whether it was going to rain or if a big disaster lay ahead. So the people sacrificed animals and offered them their bones along with turtle shells. When burned, these shells formed cracks illustrating the heavens’ forecast. Comparing the cracks to real-life things, the people could analyze them and understand the heavens’ messages.
After a while, the people realized that they had discovered a good way to communicate with the heavens and soon receiving messages was not enough for them anymore. So they replicated the cracks and wrote them on unburned turtle shells asking for things they needed.
Many years later, during the Zhou dynasty, these turtle shells were found and then became the foundation of a new writing system in China.

Of course, this was only the beginning. Chinese scribes added a lot of characters or made up new ones when they did not know the original meaning. Moreover, the characters changed over time, simplifying the writing but solidifying their meaning.
By the way, it wasn’t until 500 AD that Kanji came to Japan. Until then, Japanese had not had its own writing system. In other terms, it had been a pure spoken language before that.

Should you want to learn more about Kanji history, here are some sources that you might find interesting:

Japanese “Cat-phrases”

Posted on January 16, 2017 | genkijacs

Every language has sayings in which animals play an important role. However, in Japanese, the cat appears particularly often. Here are some “cat-phrases” that will make you smile. (Unless, of course, you are allergic to these cute pets.)

Do you know the feeling of impatiently waiting for your nice hot coffee to cool down because your tongue will get burned if you don’t? Then you may have a 猫舌 (neko jita) a cat’s tongue. This means you cannot drink or eat if you’re meal is too hot.

Maybe, you drink it anyway and spill the hot coffee all over the table in pain. If you don’t want anyone to find out it was you, you might want to look as innocent as possible and 猫を被る(neko wo kaburu), dress up as a cat. This term is more than fitting, don’t you agree? Let’s be honest. Cats look cute but they sure aren’t completely innocent .

The next phrase emphasizes this fact. 猫に鰹節 (neko ni katsuobushi). Just imagine putting some delicious fish-shaped flakes directly next to a cat. You will have to pay great attention. Otherwise, you will find yourself in an incredible mess. That is exactly what this phrase intends to describe: a situation where you mustn’t lose focus.

However, if you did lose focus, you will need a lot of help cleaning up the mess. You will be so busy you would even 猫の手も借りたい (neko no te mo karitai), want to borrow a cat’s paw.

Still, you might then find yourself with 猫の子一匹いない(neko no ko ippiki inai), not even one kitten there.

The Japanese language is full of cat-related expressions. If you like these cute little animals, do some research and thereby safe your day.
By the way, did you know that Japanese cats do not say “meow” but “にゃん” (“nyan”)?

早言葉(はやことば) Tongue Twisters

Posted on January 09, 2017 | genkijacs

They do exist in the Japanese language as well: the loved and feared tongue twisters. They help us make a fool of ourselves but that is exactly why it is fun to try.
Japanese has a grand variety of these 早言葉(はやことば). Some are more difficult than others. Here are some examples. Practice them and impress your Japanese friends.

→ 李も桃も桃のうち。(すもももももももものうち。) "sumomo mo momo mo momo no uchi" (that's a record 8 "momo"s in a row!)
It means: Both plums and peaches belong to the peach family.

→ 隣の客はよく柿食う客だ。(となりのきゃくはよくかきくうきゃくだ。) "tonari no kyaku wa yoku kaki kuu kyaku da"
The customer next to me is a customer who often eats khaki.

→ 二羽の庭には二羽鶏にワニを食べた。(にわのにわにはにわにわとりにワニをたべた。) "niwa no niwa ni wa niwatori ni wani o tabeta"
In (Mr.) Niwa’s garden, two chickens ate a crocodile.

→ 赤巻紙、黄巻紙、青巻紙(あかまきがみ、きまきがみ、あおまきがみ) "akamakigami, kimakigami, aomakigaki"
Red scroll, yellow scroll, blue scroll.

Shiritori (しりとり)

Posted on December 19, 2016 | genkijacs

This game is a fun way of memorizing vocabulary. Shiritori means “taking the end”, which is exactly what this fun Japanese word game is about. The players take turns saying words that start with the last kana character of the previous one. Of course, there are similar games in other languages but the challenge becomes even greater when played with kana instead of letters.

Why don’t you go ahead and try this game with your friends? These are the basic rules:

1. Of course, the word has to start with the previous word’s last syllable.
2. A word can only be used once.
3. If the word ends in ん, the next player loses.
4. If a word’s last kana has a “long sound” (chuon), there are three different possibilities. (ex.: きょうとう):
4.I. Use the chuon as a vowel. (In the example, オcould be used as the beginning of the following word; e.g.オレンジ.)
4.II. Ignore the chuon. (In the example, the next word could begin with ト; e.g. トマト. )
4.III. Let the next word begin with a chuon. (e.g. とうきょう)

We Have a Winner

Posted on December 12, 2016 | genkijacs

This year`s winning 流行語 (りゅうこうご) have been announced on December 1st. And 2016’s “word of the year” is …


This phrase is based on the Japanese word 神(かみ)(=god), which has been turned into a verb describing the receipt of the gods’ spirit. It characterizes miraculous or rather superhuman behavior.
This year, the phrase suddenly gained popularity after it had been used by the manager of the Hiroshima Toyo Carps, referring to his baseball team’s performance in June. One of the players, Seiya Suzuki, had shown “god-like” skills during Central League Championship. According to the manager, he had picked up this phrase from his children.

Apart from 「神ってる」, the following other 流行語 have made it to the TOP 10:

→ 「ゲス不倫」(ゲスフリン)(= “Gesu Affair”)
→ 「聖地純利」(せいちじゅんり)(=”Pilgrimage”)
→ 「トランプ現象」(トランプげんしょう)(=”the Trump Issue”)
→ 「PPAP」
→ 「保育園落ちた日本死ね」(ほいくえんおちたにほんしね)(=”day care failed, Japan die”)
→ 「(僕の)アモーレ」((ぼくの)あもーれ)(=”my amore”)
→ 「ポケモンGO」(=”Pokemon GO”)
→ 「マイナス金利」(マイナスきんり)(=”negative interest”)
→ 「盛り土」(もりど)(=”raising the ground level”)

With the announcement of the top buzzwords, the year is about to end. So enjoy the celebrations and forget all the past year worries. However, more than anything, don’t be sad that awaiting 2016 流行後 is over now (though we would totally understand if you were). 2017 might hold even more exciting new buzzwords.

駄洒落 (だじゃれ) - Japanese Puns

Posted on November 28, 2016 | genkijacs

In general, dajare could be described as Japanese Puns. However, while English puns are usually created by exchanging a word in sentence with a similar one, dajare benefit from similar sounds within a sentence or different possible interpretations of a sentence.

Here are some examples:

→ イルカがいるか? ("iruka wa iruka?): Is there a dolphin?

→ アルミ缶(かん)の上(うえ)にあるミカン ("arumi kan no ue ni aru mikan"): a mikan on top of an aluminum can
This one could also interpreted as:
あるミカンの上にあるミカン ("aru mikan no ue ni aru mikan"): a mikan on top of another mikan

→ パン作った(つくった)ことある?("pan tsukutta koto aru?"): Have you ever made bread?
can be changed into:
パンツ食(く)ったことある? ("pantsu kutta koto aru?"): Have you ever eaten underwear?

Japanese puns can be hilarious. However, be careful using them as Japanese people might not always agree :)
By the way, the standard response to being told a really bad pun is 寒~い!("samuuui", that's cold).

A totally different sort of test

Posted on November 01, 2016 | genkijacs

When studying a foreign language, one of the most interesting parts is the one that can’t be taught in lessons: words and expressions that sound hilariously strange if translated directly.

How well do you know the Japanese language? Find out by trying to make sense of these terrible translations. Take out a piece of paper, write down whatever comes to your mind and then check your answers (given below).

1.) She is a Christmas cake. (hint: you cannot eat this poor girl.)
2.) Yesterday, I bought some horizontal rice.
3.) My mouth is lonely.
4.) Did you see that barcode man?
5.) This boy is a real parasite single.
6.) My hand is leaving my throat!
7.) That was great. My cheeks are falling off.

1.) クリスマスケーキ: This term describes a woman at the age of 25 that is not yet married.
2.) 横飯 (よこめし, yokomeshi): This is not some weird genetically modified rice. It is normal, western style food.
3.) 口寂しい(くちさびしい, kuchi sabishii): Hearing that one might actually get the impression that your body parts have developed emotions. Just imagine your nose or eyes talking to you talking about how depressing their day might have been. Of course, this is not what this means. Japanese people use the term “lonely mouth” when referring to eating without actually being hungry.
4.) バーコード人 (バーコドひと, "ba-ko-do hito"): This term is used for a balding man whose hair is combed over in a way that makes it look like a barcode. Were you already having nightmares about all the barcodes on your purchases taking over your apartment?
5.) パラサイトシンゲル: An adult living alone staying at their parents’ house. This term is self-explanatory … once you know what it means.
6.) 喉から手が出る (のどからてがでる, "nodo kara te ha deru"):However scary this might sound, it is actually just the expression for wanting something terribly bad.
7.) ほっぺたが落ちる(ほっぺたがおちる "hoppeta ga ochiru"): Don’t worry. Your conversation partner has not developed some kind of weird disease. He has only just eaten something extraordinary delicious.

The Japanese language is full of funny and interesting expressions. If you enjoyed our small test, just go ahead and do some research on your own. It is great fun.

Cute Animals and Where to Find Them (in the Japanese Language)

Posted on February 27, 2016 | genkijacs

We already learned a lot about Japanese Sayings and we also already know that cats play an important role in them. However, of course they cannot take all the credit. The Japanese Language has room for all the cute animals on this planet.

For example, have you ever heard of a “dog-monkey relationship”, 犬猿の仲 (けんえんのなか)? This is actually one of the rare cases where a cat does not appear in a Japanese phrase when it would in other languages. A 犬猿の仲 is what English native speakers refer to as a cat-and-dog relationship.

If you prefer bigger animals, you might be interested to know what is meant by Japanese people when “the horse fits”, 馬が合う (うまがあう). This tiny little sentence simply means that you get along with someone.

However, if 馬が合わない, you might find yourself facing someone that you don’t really like. “Less adult” people might want to try and tease each other by playing silly tricks. Depending on how clever these tricks are planned, others might refer to your relationship with the phrase 狐と狸の化かし合い (きつねとたぬきのばかしあい), “the silly game of the fox and raccoon.”

If you love animals and got curious about more “animal-phrases”, why don’t you go ahead and do some research on your own?


Posted on February 10, 2015 | genkijacs

Alrighty! Here we go, your go-to expression for this week! Did you know Japanese also has wordplay? The Japanese love it and call it 言葉遊び (ことばあそび - "kotoba asobi").

Here are a few examples of Japanese words and phrases that, when said out loud, sound like English:

ハマチ : hamachi (Japanese meaning: Yellowtail sushi) – Sounds like: "How much?"
いつ相撲終わる? : itsu sumo owaru? (Japanese meaning: When does the Sumo end?) – Sounds like: "It’s a small world."
ほった芋いじんな : Hotta imo ijinna (Japanese meaning: Leave those potatoes alone) – Sounds like: "What time is it now?"

In Japanese, numbers' pronunciation can also sometimes be adapted to form words. Like...

37564 – みなごろし : Massacre (In this example, 3 - usually pronounced "san" - is pronounced "mi" (as it is in words such as 3日間 - "mikkakan" or "three days". 7 - "nana" - gets shortened to "na". And so on...)


18782 - いやなやつ : Unpleasant guy (above?) Time to use sneaky number codes around mean guys.


4649 - よろしく : Nice to meet you, please treat me well!

What kind of Japanese wordplay do you know? Little things make studying Japanese interesting and more fun, don’t you think?